Just for the record: In my first round playoff preview I only predicted half of the games correctly and got one series exactly correct (Phoenix in 6). There also will be no repeat of last year’s Stanley cup Finals as both Vancouver and Boston were eliminated.
Phoenix Coyotes (#3) vs. Nashville Predators (#4)
By taking care of business versus Chicago the Coyotes advance into the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 25 years and the first time since moving to the desert. The first five games of their series against the Black Hawks went into overtime, an NHL first, and youngster Mikkel Boedeker got back-to-back game winning goals. With Hanzl and Vrbata battling some injuries and Shane Doan skating his way out of quality scoring chances they had to rely on the likes of newcomer Antoine Vermette to put the puck in the net. What most people will remember from this series however is the head shot Raffi Torres laid on Marion Hossa that garnered him a hefty 25-game suspension. Nashville, on the other hand, took out Phoenix’s greatest playoff kryptonite in the Red Wings. Detroit just didn’t have that killer instinct this year and Nashville was able to grind away a series victory bolstered by the strong play in net by Pekka Rinne. Rinne and Phoenix’s Mike Smith were both brilliant in the first round posting identical 1.81 GAA albeit with Smith appearing in an extra game. This should be a really good grind it out series that probably no one will watch. Phoenix and Nashville aren’t exactly hockey hubs and certainly won’t attract the casual fan. With goaltending being even I give Phoenix the slight edge in offense and nastiness.
Prediction: Phoenix in 7 with at least four overtimes.
St. Louis Blues (#2) vs. Los Angeles Kings (#8)
It’s not surprising that San Jose once again wilted in the playoffs as St. Louis easily eliminated them in the first round. The Blues made the puzzling choice of starting Jaroslav Halak, probably because of his playoff experience, but once Halak got injured Brian Elliot came in and was just as dominant as he was during the regular season. The second biggest factor in the Blues first round success was the play of Andy McDonald. McDonald was injured for much of the regular season and he helps give the Blues some depth so that you cant just shut down Berglund. The Kings surprised me quite a bit by taking it to the regular season behemoth Canucks. With only half of the Wonder Twins Vancouver lost a lot of scoring threat and had no answer for Vezina Trophy candidate Jonathan Quick or the at-times-possessed Dustin Brown who scored two shorthanded goals in one game. Going ahead this should be another evenly matched, goaltender strong series that draws little national attention. Los Angeles has the stronger scoring depth in Brown, Richards, Kopitar and Penner and if they get hot it could be real trouble for St. Luois. The Blues have been defying the odds all year long by playing tough, defensive hockey and relying on stellar goaltending and I think this will continue through this round.
Prediction: St. Louis in 6
New York Rangers (#1) vs. Washington Capitals (#7)
The Washington Capitals just knocked off the defending Stanley Cup Champions and hope that their second round will go very similarly when they face the best-in-the-East Rangers. The Rangers certainly looked vulnerable as they were just barely able to eek by the Ottawa Senators despite excellent play from Henrik Lundqvist in net. The Caps are an enigma and seem to be much more dangerous as the underdogs then they were last year as the number one seed. Rookie goaltender Braden Holtby has passed his trial by fire but how long can he keep it up? Goaltenders like pitchers can sometimes be outstanding until teams figure them out. See Jim Carey Boston fans. The Rangers goal scorers, especially Gaborik, are going to need to step up if they are going to get past Washington. You know Ovechkin and Semin are going to get a lot of rubber towards the net and if Brooks Laich and Niklas Backstrom elevate their game the Caps could definitely give the Rangers fits and make it a close series. I still feel like this is New York series to lose however and unlike Boston their defense core is pretty healthy. You know Torts is not happy with the lackluster first round and should have his guys properly motivated for round two.
Prediction: Rangers in 5
Philadelphia Flyers (#5) vs New Jersey Devils (#6)
The “Battle for Philadelphia” was as advertised and incredibly entertaining and bloody duel. The good news for Philly was that they had no trouble getting the puck in the net and Claude Giroux leads all NHL scorers in the playoffs with an incomparable 14 first round points! The bad news is that their goaltending was atrocious. Bryzgalov looked like the Bryzgalov of the beginning of the year and muddled through the first round with a 3.89 GAA and 87% save percentage. They tried to bring in Bobrovsky but he was even worse. The Devils on the other hand have one of the greatest goaltenders of all time between the pipes. Broduer is not the vintage Broduer anymore but he was pretty decent in the first round saving 92% of the shots he saw. The biggest problem for the Devils in the opening round was that they couldn’t kill a penalty to save their life. They had the best PK in the regular season but were absolutely destroyed by Florida when skating a man short. I’m not sure what to make of this series. The Flyers outgun, outmatch and outtough the Devils but if Bryzgalov plays like he did in the first round they are going to be in big trouble because Martin Broduer isn’t going to be the train wreck that Pittsburgh’s Marc Andre-Fluery was. In the end though I think Philly will get their heads together and prevail.
Prediction: Flyers in 6
It clear that I’m not going to get all of these series correct either because I chose all of the higher seeded teams and there will be at least one upset. That upset could be the Coyotes though as most people probably have Nashville as the favorite despite their lower ranking.
and just because…